The top 3 challenges facing the veterinary industry today—and what will help

by Brenda Andresen

Overwhelmed Veterinarian

Lack of well-being continues to be a critical issue impacting the veterinary profession—both the individuals in it and the future of the profession itself. This theme has been a major emphasis at every industry event I’ve attended in 2022, and the recent Pet Health Industry Summit hosted by Banfield Pet Hospital was no exception. The thought leaders gathered for this annual event discussed a number of challenges related to well-being, including the veterinary talent shortage; diversity, equity and inclusion; and mental health. Here’s a closer look.

1. The veterinary shortage is real and straining an already stressed-out workforce.

Veterinary talent is becoming scarcer than ever even as demand for quality pet care continues to grow. This is creating a trickle-down effect that will further impact access to care. To get ahead of this, the industry must respond quickly. One solution is to offer multiple pathways to certification.

Under current credentialing standards, veterinary colleges are not physically able to graduate enough students annually to meet the need for healthcare across companion, equine and production animal medicine. The American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges has investigated and mapped out fresh approaches to confront this problem. In response, veterinary schools at The Ohio State University, University of Arizona and Lincoln Memorial University (LMU) are proposing and activating solution-centric programs, including a dispersed clinical education model that places students on the front lines of veterinary medicine.

Another way to meet the need for care? Follow the lead of LMU and some industry advocates who are enthusiastically promoting a midlevel professional career pathway via a master’s degree in veterinary clinical care.

2. Poor mental health is rampant among veterinarians and their teams.

Burnout, depression and other mental health challenges are not exclusive to the veterinary profession. They have, however, become borderline epidemic. A study published by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association found that one in 11 veterinarians experienced serious psychological distress and one in six had engaged in suicidal ideation since leaving veterinary school.

The profession owes it to itself, and to the passionate individuals who choose it, to take a more proactive and understanding approach to the too-frequently fatal reality. Here are some suggested actionable steps industry leaders can take to ease the strain on the profession:

  • Emphasize peer support
  • Build the cultural value of mental health
  • Prepare for burnout
  • Reframe the concept of resilience with a focus on adaptability
  • Normalize the conversation around stress, hopelessness and frustration

3. There’s an alarming need for diversity in veterinary medicine.

Lack of diversity is a very real problem in animal health. While over 80 percent of veterinary graduates are women, 76 percent of those graduates are white. This is not representative of the population of the United States. What’s more, leadership—in the world and the veterinary profession—is largely white and male, reinforcing a disconnect with social realities and an inequity that impacts income.

We need to partake in open, honest and engaging discussions about diversity in the veterinary industry—such as the one that took place at the Pet Health Industry Summit—but conversation means nothing if not followed by action and solutions. Groups such as the Diversify Veterinary Medicine Coalition are working hard on this problem and providing much-needed education on the issue.

The challenges facing the veterinary profession—increasing demand for care, a decreasing workforce, the need for a more diverse and accepting industry, and the impact on mental health and well-being resulting from these things being out of balance—are also playing out across America. From Manhattan to Mayberry, our country is a rich patchwork of experiences, perspectives, preferences and colors. It’s time to stop lamenting “what is” and start to build “what’s possible.”

Brenda Andresen is co-chief executive officer of Stephens & Associates.

Topics:veterinary innovationveterinary medicine